Saturated vs. Unsaturated Hydrocarbons

Saturated vs. Unsaturated Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons, or molecules which contain hydrogen atoms and carbon atoms that are bonded to each other and may or may not contain other atoms, are classified into two distinct categories: saturated and unsaturated. These hydrocarbons, which make up organic compounds, have distinct characteristics based on this further classification.

Unlike saturated hydrocarbons in which all hydrogen atoms and carbon atoms are bonded together with single bonds, unsaturated hydrocarbons have double or even triple bonds between the carbon atoms. This makes unsaturated hydrocarbons even more reactive than saturated hydrocarbons, as well as have fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon atoms than saturated hydrocarbons have.

1. Alkanes - Are saturated hydrocarbons that therefore contain only hydrogen and carbon atoms bonded to each other, and typically follow the chemical formula CnH2n+2. A common example is paraffin.

2. Alkenes - These unsaturated hydrocarbons are molecules that contain at least one carbon-to-carbon double bond. With the chemical formula consisting of molecules of CnH2n, alkenes are very common in the petrochemical industry; the simplest alkene is ethylene, or ethane.

3. Alkynes - This category of hydrocarbons are unsaturated, and contain at least one carbon-to-carbon triple bond. The hydrophobic acetylenes are common examples of alkynes.

4. Cycloalkanes - The saturated hydrocarbons not only form only carbon-to-hydrogen bonds, rather than the carbon-to-carbon bonds that have to then have added hydrogen atoms. These alkanes have to prefix "cyclo" due to the configuration of rings of carbon atoms in their structure.

5. Aromatic hydrocarbons - These unsaturated hydrocarbons have alternating carbon-to-carbon single or double bonds in their molecules. The term aromatic was applied to this category of hydrocarbons before the chemical nature of aromaticity was discovered, and they were therefore called aromatic simply because these compounds had a pleasant smell.

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